In my ongoing attempts to stay up on the developing information about yoga, aging and health, I look at other online sources of new information. One such resource is the online site called Yoga U, which sends out a periodic newsletter as well as offering special live interactive webinars on a variety of topics and yoga. (I’ll be doing a webinar for them in May on “Yoga and the Digestive System” so stay tuned!) As I was preparing for my Sunday session at Yoga Journal Conference last week “Yoga for Arthritis,” I came across a piece on Yoga U about a recent study that looked at degenerative disc disease.
Degenerative disc disease is a process of change to the cushion-like discs found between the vertebrae or spinal bones. It most commonly affects the discs in the neck/cervical region and the lumber/lower back region. There is some ongoing debate on whether the deterioration of the discs is a natural part of the aging process (since it is seen in people without symptoms of back or neck pain in gradually increasing percentages as we age) or whether it is directly related to an abnormal condition of change in the discs. It is really part of the general wear and tear arthritic changes we see in other joints, as the discs represent a unique kind of cushion structure that is similar to the cartilage caps found on the ends of other bones in major joints of movement. But it is different from the regular cartilage in other joints in that it is a larger structure, not adherent to the vertebrae above and below it, as well as having a unique structure that distributes the intense force of gravity that travels down the spine in a specialized way.
|Spinal Vertebrae and Discs|
The study, done in Taiwan, looked at yoga teachers that practiced a gentle and slow form of yoga. I found this quite compelling, since much of the yoga we recommend here at YFHA is somewhat gentle, and we always recommend moving mindfully into and out of poses. Those of our readers who practice similarly could benefit from this style of practice in regards to their spinal health. The researchers matched the yoga teachers and the control group for age, sex, general health and all were non-smokers. (Why non-smokers, you might ask? Smoking is considered a risk factor on its own for increased chance of back pain.) Even though yoga teachers had less degenerative disk disease in all areas of the spine compared to the control group, within the teachers themselves there was less degenerative disk disease in the cervical spine versus the lumbar spine. Finally, the researchers concluded that their results suggest that hatha yoga may have slowed the natural aging process in the discs.
They hypothesized that a combination of factors, such as stretching and positioning of the spine, as well as decreased weight-bearing on the spine while practicing yoga, may allow for more nutrients to diffuse or enter the spinal discs. Whatever the reasons, these are surely encouraging results! However, as always with these initial studies, this early evidence warrants further studies with larger groups of people. In the meantime, I am going to continue with my gentle, slow yoga, with the intention that my discs are benefiting every day. Won’t you join me?